The rules of engagement: How to stand out over the holiday season on YouTube

Lorenzo Montali / October 2019

The holiday season is traditionally a battleground for brands – but it can also be an opportunity. Shoppers actively looking for help often turn to YouTube, researching big-ticket buys with in-depth user reviews or finding inspiration from creators. And, from seasonal how-tos to bonus holiday experiences, smart brands are already serving viewers exactly what they’re after. Here are five ways to tap into the trend and create stand out content to engage viewers this holiday season.

1. Give viewers some seasonal help

‘How-to’ content is popular year-round on YouTube, but especially so during the festive period. Around Christmas, viewers search for advice on everything from wrapping presents to assembling toys. And although there’s plenty of advice available from enthusiastic amateurs, brands can reduce the seasonal stress by providing expert-level content on cookery, decor, or even festive fashion – while also highlighting their own products.

Case study: How Tesco took the stress out of seasonal treats

To take some of the stress out of hosting at Christmas, Tesco dished up a series of informative TrueView ads (in-stream adverts which are skippable after a few seconds) to aspiring chefs, including tips on making perfect lemon-crusted mince pies, crackling turkey or a festive gin and tonic. Each video highlighted a key product – and, with 70% of viewers agreeing that Tesco helped them over Christmas, the series served up plenty of cheer.

2. Plan for a creator-driven Christmas

For potential buyers who like to browse in comfort, review videos on YouTube are the place to go. In the last two years, review videos have had more than 50,000 years of view watchtime on mobile alone.1 YouTube creators have recognised the opportunities that come from this increased desire for Christmas content – whether it’s review-based or not. ‘Vlogmas’, a now-seasonal tradition in which vloggers post short videos every day in December in the lead up to Christmas, is a hotly-anticipated holiday event in the YouTube community. For marketers, this means if you help content-hungry creators connect with your products, you could increase your chances of a festive hit.

Case study: How Aldi Süd got creators cooking

Aldi Süd steered away from professionals for its festive cookery challenge, partnering with a pair of YouTube creators – CrispyRob and Dagi Bee – to show that even amateurs can make a quick, delicious Christmas meal from Aldi products. Ten-minute videos showed the pair shopping at Aldi, cooking and tasting, then viewers were encouraged to vote for their favourite video with comments featuring the #ALDIlicious hashtag. And, it clearly worked, with both videos quickly garnering more than 800,000 views each and CrispyRob’s clip collecting 32,000 comments in two days. Aldi has since expanded the series on YouTube to feature four more creators and a dozen videos.

3. Find simple ways to stand out

‘Tis the season when viewers are primed to engage with ads – and actually want to watch them, to discuss and dissect them during the office party or over dinner with friends. For brands, this means simply being there is a good starting point but standing out can be a game-changer. This could come from tapping into nostalgia, trying visually-interesting animation styles, using an earworm song, or just creating an emotionally engaging story. Or, combine one or more of the above – as in the case of Manor Switzerland’s Special Christmas, a (surprisingly) heartwarming tale that’s currently at 13M views and counting.

Case study: How Coca-Cola Poland reinvented a classic

You probably already know Wonderful Dream, the song that found fame in 2009 during Coca-Cola’s iconic ‘Holidays Are Coming’ campaign. For a twist on the classic, Coca-Cola Poland recruited rock singer Kasia Nosowska to sing alongside a whole group of Santas. And the ad didn’t just deliver a heartwarming message, it encouraged viewers to get into the Christmas spirit by “donating joy” with codes from selected products donating to gift-giving charities when entered on a campaign website.

4. Think online video first

With viewers prepared to go out of their way to stay in the loop with festive entertainment, a splashy TV spot isn’t always the best way to create a buzz. And, increasingly, Christmas campaigns are launching on YouTube first to catch pre-work browsers and build awareness before launching elsewhere.

Case study: How John Lewis topped the charts for two years in a row

In the UK, the John Lewis ad has rapidly become something of a Christmas tradition, serving up seasonal cheer in a thoughtful, memorable way. After hits with Buster the Boxer Dog in 2016 and Moz the Monster in 2017, the brand looked to do something different in 2018. And it delivered, with a YouTube-first launch of the Elton John mini-biopic which built buzz quickly and nabbed 4.4 million views in its first day live.

5. Offer more for consumers to unwrap

On either side of the big day, there’s plenty of time to engage with viewers – especially by giving them more to engage with. Some of the most thoughtful holiday campaigns offer bonus content, extra tools, or even experiential moments to allow interested consumers a chance to further connect with their brands.

Case study: How a liqueur brand reminded millions to make time for friends

Ahead of a season when people often make time for loved ones, Spanish liqueur brand Ruavieja asked a simple question: how much more time do you have with the people you care about the most? After interviewing pairs of friends, the brand revealed how many hours the participants had left to spend together. The short film was viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube within a week, and – alongside a tool that allowed viewers to conduct their own togetherness-test long after the big day – made powerful associations between the drinks brand and friendship.

Mr Porter experiments with a new style of storytelling to reach holiday shoppers